Somewhere In Yellowstone

While on the road this summer, I came across a school where the majority of the curriculum is taught outside the building. This approach to teaching really caught my interest. After further homework, I found out that educating kids outdoors is becoming a popular curriculum choice across the country.  Unfortunately, it’s not an option in our area. I do have my own answer. It’s my RV.  What I have learned is that my RV is the perfect nature school on wheels.

The reason this approach to education excites me is because early on, when I started this adventure into RVing with my family, I recognized the importance of introducing my kids to nature.  I thought it was necessary for their mental development to be able to connect with our environment because nature has a way of stimulating creativity and thought. For this reason, when we are on the road, I try to plan as many outdoor adventures as I can, keeping national and state parks at the top of the list. There are plenty of nature centers to be found too.

The Story of the Wolves

As I look back over the last summer, I can see how one particular trip to a nature center started a slew of conversations and discoveries. Although it was always on our list, it was not until this summer that we actually made it to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. At the center we learned all about the Grizzly Bear. But even more important, we learned about my son’s newly discovered favorite animal, the Gray Wolf.

The most important lesson the kids learned at the center was that wolves had been reintroduced to Yellowstone. As a result, the environment in Yellowstone had changed for the better for all the animals there. The wolf was important for keeping the deer and small animal population under control, since they are a wolf’s primary food source. With the deer under control, the plants had a chance to grow larger and spread. More shrubs and trees now grow along the river banks, which helps to control erosion during spring thaws. So now rivers through Yellowstone are narrower and deeper, and as a result the fish are thriving. The children learned that one link in the chain of events in nature changes the balance for all of nature. Best of all, they learned that they could apply their new knowledge to other discoveries.

As the summer moved along, it seemed everywhere we went the kids would draw parallels to the story of the wolf.  For example, while camping on the Wood River in Idaho, they talked about the erosion on the river banks due to the very high snow melt from the mountains. The flooding closed many of the campgrounds and destroyed biking and hiking trails. This, they explained, also affected the small animals and their food sources along the Wood River including the fish that the bears eat!  It was fascinating to watch my eight year old boys take the information that they had learned from the Discovery Center and apply it to animal life elsewhere.

One day we took a hike up to a bear cave. You can imagine that conversation. They were so stimulated by their new knowledge and their ability to apply it to what seemed like all things in the woods, they were almost giddy. They were talking a mile a minute.  It was fascinating to watch their excitement as everything in the woods started to have a meaning and purpose to them. It is in moments like this, that I find pure joy as a parent. There are growth spurts of mental acuity that seem like they can be seen. I am not a teacher; but I imagine it’s the joy of observing a child’s “ah ha moments” that keeps our teachers teaching.

I love the outdoors. I especially love what happens when I step outside. We typically spend all day inside looking at our four walls where everything remains constant: from the light, to the temperature, only the images on our computer screens changing. However, when we step outside, everything changes: from the light, to the weather, to the landscape and most important, we change, as nature stimulates our senses and imaginations. There is never a dull moment when you are interacting with nature. Fresh air, exercise, and creative exploration, are just a few of the benefits we get from spending time outdoors.  I believe encouraging my kids to be active outdoors is an important part of their cognitive, as well as physical and social development.

Bringing Nature Programs to Our Kids

I love my school on wheels and I am happy to read that others too are finding ways of bringing kids into nature’s classroom. From schools with an outdoor curriculum focus, to programs like Natural Start, a program dedicated to bringing nature programs to our kids, to federally funded programs like Every Kid in a Park, these all inspire me to continue to do what I am doing. Our kids today spend too much time in front of entertainment media. I believe that getting kids away from the technology, off the couch, and into nature, will help stimulate their creative exploration as well as encourage them to be active participants in the preservation of our environment.

While on the road this summer, I came across a school in which the majority of the curriculum is taught outside the building. This approach to teaching really caught my interest. After further homework, I found out that educating kids outdoors is becoming a popular curriculum choice across the country.  Unfortunately, it’s not an option in our area. I do have my own answer. It’s my RV.  What I have learned is that my RV is the perfect nature school on wheels.

The reason this approach to education excites me is because early on, when I started this adventure into RVing with my family, I recognized the importance of introducing my kids to nature.  I thought it was necessary for their mental development to be able to connect with our environment because nature has a way of stimulating creativity and thought. For this reason, when we are on the road, I try to plan as many outdoor adventures as I can, keeping National and State parks at the top of the list. There are plenty of nature centers to be found too.

As I look back over the last summer, I can see how one particular trip to a nature center started a slew of conversations and discoveries.Although it was always on our list, it was not until this summer that we actually made it to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone,Montana. At the center we learned all about the Grizzly Bear. But even more important, we learned about my son’s newly discovered favorite animal, the Gray Wolf.

The most important lesson the kids learned at the center was that wolves had been reintroduced to Yellowstone. As a result, the environment in Yellowstone had changed for the better for all the animals there. The wolf was important for keeping the deer and small animal population under control, since they are a wolf’s primary food source. With the deer under control, the plants had a chance to grow larger and spread. More shrubs and trees now grow along the river banks, which helps to control erosion during spring thaws. So now rivers through Yellowstone are narrower and deeper, and as a result the fish are thriving. The children learned that one link in the chain of events in nature changes the balance for all of nature. Best of all, they learned that they could apply their new knowledge to other discoveries.

As the summer moved along, it seemed everywhere we went the kids would draw parallels to the story of the wolf.  For example, while camping on the Wind River in Idaho, they talked about the erosion on the river banks due to the very high snow melt from the mountains. The flooding closed many of the campgrounds and destroyed biking and hiking trails. This, they explained, also affected the small animals and their food sources along the Wind River including the fish that the bears eat!  It was fascinating to watch my eight year old boys take the information that they had learned from the Discovery Center and apply it to animal life elsewhere.

One day we took a hike up to a bear cave. You can imagine that conversation. They were so stimulated by their new knowledge and their ability to apply it to what seemed like all things in the woods, they were almost giddy. They were talking a mile a minute.  It was fascinating to watch their excitement as everything in the woods started to have a meaning and purpose to them. It is in moments like this, that I find pure joy as a parent. There are growth spurts of mental acuity that seem like they can be seen. I am not a teacher; but I imagine it’s the joy of observing a child’s “ah ha moments” that keeps our teachers teaching.

I love the outdoors. I especially love what happens when I step outside. We typically spend all day inside looking at our four walls where everything remains constant: from the light, to the temperature, only the images on our computer screens changing. However, when we step outside, everything changes: from the light, to the weather, to the landscape and most important,we change, as nature stimulates our senses and imaginations. There is never a dull moment when you are interacting with nature. Fresh air, exercise, and creative exploration, are just a few of the benefits we get from spending timeout doors.  I believe encouraging my kids to be active outdoors is an important part of their cognitive, as well as physical and social development.

I love my school on wheels and I am happy to read that others too are finding ways of bringing kids into nature’s classroom. From  schools with an outdoor curriculum focus, to programs like Natural Start, a program dedicated to bringing nature programs to our kids, to federally funded programs like Every Kid in a Park, these all inspire me to continue to do what I am doing. Our kids today spend too much time in front of entertainment media.I believe that getting kids away from the technology, off the couch, and in to nature, will help stimulate their creative exploration as well as encourage them to be active participants in the preservation of our environment.